Open Research Questions from the CS Education Research class, February 2019

March 11, 2019 at 7:00 am 12 comments

Each time I teach the CS Education Research class, we have one session where we brainstorm the questions that this class thinks are interesting and still open (see 2017 edition here and 2015 edition here). This is my first time teaching the class at the University of Michigan. It’s a joint undergraduate and graduate class. We have 22 students total (11 from each of undergrad/grad) — which is terrific for a special topics class on education research!

We put up five terms on the white board as seeds for the questions. Questions were placed strategically near a given term or between two terms. I can’t represent between very well here, so I’m going to organize questions in terms of the closest term (by my eyeball of the photos I took of the whiteboards) and close to the bottom/top of the list to suggest connection to next/prior.

These questions are amazing — I’m really impressed by the insights about what’s interesting, quality of questions, and breadth of topics. #proudTeacher

Community of Practice/Identity

Is there a difference in climate between liberal arts and engineering based CS? Does that climate impact diversity?

What factors make near-peer mentors more effective?

Is there a correlation in “defensive climate” in other subjects with factors like % of male faculty, % minorities in the field, etc.?

How can we get CS educators to change their practices?

How does having diverse/representative course staff impact student attitudes about CS and retention in CS classes/degrees?

How do initiatives of active learning bridge the communities of students learning CS from different backgrounds?

How do visually impaired programmers become part of the larger community of programming practice?

How does the ordering of topics in an Informatics-centric CS1 vs. a CS-centric CS1 effect performance on a pseudocode test of overlapping concepts?

Development (cognitive, learning trajectories, teacher, etc.)

Would question proofing before posting on Piazza increase frequency of questions posted and in turn motivate help-seeking behavior?

How do non-CS majors develop their knowledge and practice of debugging?

How does the interest of a lecturer impact how students learn within the course? Should we force tenure-track professors to teach who don’t want to teach? Can student lecturers make the same impact on student learning and attitudes as professional lecturers and/or tenure-track faculty?

Cognitive/Learning Sciences

What are effect of class sizes and teaching methods on CS student learning?

Does teacher belief that their students have (or don’t have) a “Geek Gene” affect student performance?

How do the language learned in CS classes and their relevancy in industry affect retention rate (if at all)?

What is the best programming language for introduction to CS, and how would you define “best”?

Do we want to teach everyone computer science or computational thinking?

Would subgoal-labeled assertion-evidence slides improve student retention in an introductory data structures course?

Empirically, how does increasing the emphasis on reading code (vs primarily writing code) affect student learning? Does a focus on reading make the fMRI distinction on reading prose or reading code decrease faster (that is, with less experience as a function of time)?

What metaphors in teaching lead to the most successful learning of notional machines? What metaphors do students invent, and which lead to the most successful learning of notional machines?

What is the role of communicating the redesign of a CS1 for recruitment (matriculation) and retention? If you improve your CS1 and you tell prospective students that you changed it, does that change recruitment or retention? Or do prior attitudes/opinions outweigh the re-design?

How can we better understand students’ mental models of notional machines?

How do measure student disconnect in MOOCs?

How can we integrate lecture videos with student hands-on practice in data science or programming MOOCs?


Does engagement on Piazza (common on-line discussion forum) impact CS student performance?

Should course staff promote discussions or start discussions on Piazza? Are benefits to students different if it’s staff starting the discussions or students?

How does national or state standardization of CS class topics or curriculum effect enrollment rates and diversity in high school CS classes?

How do parents’ education level/career influence student choices in CS, e.g. ,to take a CS class, to get a CS degree, to seek a CS job, etc.?

Do students with learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia) view code differently? Could we use fMRI or eye tracking to measure this?

Why don’t more lower-income students go into CS? What percentage of current CS students are lower-income? How many lower-income students have the opportunity to learn CS and don’t take it?


What would it cost to implement a CS program in all high schools in Michigan?

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: .

Barbara Ericson’s AP CS Report for 2018 and her new blog Code Smells might suggest a different and better Notional Machine: Maybe students want more than one main()

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tom Morley  |  March 11, 2019 at 7:36 am

    How can we get CS educators to change their practices?

    Easy. Pay them to do do, and make it requirement for promotion.

    • 2. Austin Bart  |  March 11, 2019 at 8:57 am

      I’m not sure it’s that simple. Doesn’t this SIGCSE paper suggest a number of factors?

      • 3. Tom Morley  |  March 27, 2019 at 12:55 pm

        Money will trump other reasons. And actually enforcing good teaching as a tenure/promotion issue, not like the department I use to work for (hence retired), where there was a lot of lip service about teaching, but really bad teaching was only enforced to get rid of people they wanted to get rid anyway. So bad teaching was just a proxy for (mostly) inadequate research because it was easy to make the case.

        • 4. Austin Bart  |  March 28, 2019 at 7:33 am

          I don’t think that’s true. Most of my colleagues are not heavily motivated by money – if they were, most of them would go back to their old extremely higher paying industry jobs. They’re teaching because they love teaching. Sure, some faculty are motivated by money and promotion (those are two tricks that have a lot of effectiveness on me), but most of the time it’s a lot of other factors too. And I mean, that’s the point of the research paper I linked.

          Or maybe University of Delaware is the exception and everywhere looks like the one experience you had at your former institution 🙂

    • 5. Ben Shapiro  |  March 11, 2019 at 1:29 pm

      +1 🙂

  • 6. Ben Shapiro  |  March 11, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Thank you for sharing these. I always love reading them.

  • 7. Raul Miller  |  March 11, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    “What would it cost to implement a CS program in all high schools in Michigan?”

    Are you and your students motivated enough to go with a “some assembly required” approach?

    If so, a raspberry pi zero, usb hub, power supply, micro sd card, keyboard, mouse, cable and display might set you back $35..$50 all combined. Maybe $100 if you get fancy stuff. That’s in the same ballpark as a textbook and the setup is comparable to the sort of project a vocational education class might deal with.

    (Of course you’d want to do a few dry runs before trying something like this in a classroom environment, and that can get you into other issues, like supply line instabilities.)

    And then there’s what you teach your class after you’ve got the thing put together. One teacher might be inclined to use it as a flashcard system. Another teacher might be inclined to use it to deal with arithmetic/math issues. Another teacher might be inclined to use it as a part of an electronic or electric/mechanical system. And so on…

    • 8. Mark Guzdial  |  March 11, 2019 at 7:03 pm

      And the cost for preparing teachers, creating infrastructure (e.g., things are only taught that count towards high school graduation or testing), retaining teachers (vs CS teachers going off to industry), curriculum — all of this is “some assembly required”?

      • 9. Raul Miller  |  March 12, 2019 at 11:21 am

        It’s new, so definitely.

        We’ve got issues getting people to learn how to teach english (which is at least a century old, according to rumor) and physics (which apparently is much older, in some senses at least). And even in such well established fields, it takes people with a peculiar drive to be any good at teaching…

        Basically, it’s going to be awful for most people, and we’re obligated to learn from our mistakes.

        But throwing money at it won’t work very well either, because there’s almost nobody suitable to throw the money at.

  • 10. gflint  |  March 12, 2019 at 1:47 pm

    “What would it cost to implement a CS program in all high schools in Michigan?” If this question were posed to me I would tell the person asking the only cost would be the teachers. Everything else is usually already there or can be found for free. And finding the teachers is far from trivial. If fact it is the “make it or break it” factor. Finding an experienced high school CS teacher is closely related to finding a unicorn shooting rainbows out of its nose. Need computers? I am willing to bet every state has a warehouse of used computers from the state offices that upgraded. Software? Lots of free software: Python, Java, Small Basic and almost anything for any class. Textbooks? Lots of free ones or extremely cheap ones out there. It all comes back to finding teachers.

  • […] I taught CS Ed Research this last semester (see the blog post about open questions from the class), the students so resonated with Lecia Barker’s papers about defensive climate (the classic paper […]

  • […] on CS education research, I ask my students to identify open research questions. Last semester (see blog post here), a lot of their questions were about access to CS classes, which is complicated by the unique […]


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